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First pages

Prologue

Park City, Utah

December 24, 1993

 

 

Maddy dove under the Christmas tree with little regard for her knees or her mother’s glass ornaments. Excitement gripped her heart—a present from her father, an entire day early! Arnie woke from his nap and joined her, nose-to-nose, under the bottom bough. His black tail wagged back and forth, jostling lights and tinsel in a perilous dance.

“Arnie!” Rachel said. Maddy’s mother leaned forward on the couch. Worry creased her young, sturdy forehead as she tucked her brown hair behind her ear.

“Don’t worry, I’ll catch it if it comes down,” Johnny said, stretching his muscular arms in front of the tree in feigned rescue. Maddy’s father lay sprawled in U.S. Olympic Ski Team sweats on the living room rug. Blithe and boyish and blond, he winked at Rachel.

Rachel rolled her eyes at Johnny and sipped her coffee. She kept a wary eye on the tree.

Maddy sensed the tension and took quick action. Nothing could spoil this moment.

“Easy Arnie,” she said. “Down.” Arnie eased to the floor. Maddy sighed with relief as she stroked his muzzle. “Good boy. Now, where is it?”

Maddy surveyed the close landscape of red ribbons and gold bows, breathing in the pleasing pine scent as she scanned for something new. She edged deeper into the tree. Prickly needles brushed her forehead. Planting a hand for support, she caught an edge under her fingers. Something was stuck under the red tree skirt! Repositioning, she traced a rectangular outline with her fingers. She scooched two presents out of the way and revealed a manila corner poking out beyond the green-fringed edge.

“A-ha!”

“Find it?” Johnny asked, propped on one elbow.

Maddy emerged holding up a plain envelope. She grinned ear-to-ear, as if it were plated in gold. Her wheat-blonde hair matched her father’s in length and shade, but hers hung in stringy strands. It hadn’t been brushed since yesterday when Rachel forced her to sit still for two minutes after taking her bath. She had no idea what was inside or why she was being allowed to open this present early, but the fact that her father had gotten something especially for her filled her seven-year-old heart with joy.

She saw her name scrawled across the front in her dad’s all-caps print and her insides veritably hummed, like butterflies flitting about on updrafts of anticipation. Like it always did whenever she managed to capture his attention far away from the ski slopes. Far away from the fact that she was so afraid of heights she couldn’t stomach a ski lift.

Her mind whirred with possibilities. Did it have something to do with Lillehammer? With the Winter Olympics? She held the envelope in her small hands and turned it over and over again, savoring the moment. She didn’t want the mystery or the happiness of the morning to end. Fresh snow had fallen overnight and bright rays of sun poured through the bay window, warming her arms and bare feet. Her mom had let her count a cinnamon roll as breakfast and her dad—Mr. Olympian—was home for the first time in months. He’d even helped her build a snowman. She could see it now, leaning slightly askew in the front yard. Its two stick arms held up her ski poles. Her red Nebraska Cornhuskers scarf flitted around its neck in the morning breeze. Its green twig mouth sat sideways giving it an air of mirth and magic. She loved it.

Looking back, she always remembered that delay. It couldn’t have been more than thirty or forty seconds, but the happy images were seared into her memory. Her jolly snowman. Her handsome dad smiling at her. Her mom and dad together. The promise of going to Norway to watch her dad ski in the Winter Olympics soon.

How different would her life be today if she’d torn that damn envelope into pieces?

She often wondered.

Chapter 1

Ljubno, Slovenia

Sunday, January 12, 2014

 

 

A thin strip of white snow ran between Maddy’s right ski and hundreds of feet of nothing. Standing at the top of the ski jumping hill, a handful of feet from the roller-coaster-looking inrun, she waited for her turn to jump in a kind of purgatory.

Nothing would arrest a fall now except the blunt edges of the seventy-odd snow-covered steel steps that bordered the takeoff ramp. She wished for a railing, a safety net, a rope, anything to hold on to, but settled for her own stomach. If she wanted to fly—to feel the addictive thrill of conquering her fear of heights—she first had to survive the wait.

Biting her lip, Maddy pressed the tip of her boot into its binding and fastened the safety strap at her heel. She stood up cautiously, straightening her back one vertebra at a time. Her shallow breaths formed short-lived clouds as she stood with her head down, holding vigil on the slim margin between safety and peril.

The swaying tops of the pine trees on the mountainside ahead betrayed her best intentions and she looked up. Just beyond the shoulders of the two ski jumpers ahead of her, their snow-covered branches sparkled and sagged in the midday sun. For a moment, she stopped dissecting all the reasons the starting area qualified as suicidal and felt a moment of solidarity with the trees. She wondered… did the snow hug their branches like a cold, wet blanket? Or did it suffocate them? Were the trees struggling to breathe, just like her? If only she could be more like them and send down deep roots, or grow leaves that obscured her view and helped shut out all the emptiness currently filling up her peripheral vision.

To the left, the world seemed sane and stomachable. The metal steps rose for another fifteen feet, crowned by the open-air, cement bunker the Slovenians called their start house. The spartan space offered little protection from the elements and no chairs, benches, or ski racks. Her numb fingers ached for the glass-encased warming rooms at the top of ski jumping hills back home in Park City, Utah.

Behind her, six fellow ski jumpers were lined up—the event leaders after the first round of jumps. Her best friend and fellow teammate, Brooke Bingham, stood among them, clad in the same foamy gray jump suit as her. Brooke watched and waited with ease, somehow taking in the bird’s-eye view to the right without hyperventilating. Freak. Maddy could only take it in small, hesitant sips, as she did now, tracing the jagged outline of the salt-and-pepper mountains that rose in the distance with her eyes. The craggy range rimmed the valley below as if designed for a picture postcard. She smiled at a high peak wearing a fluffy cloud like a muffler, but kept her eyes level with the horizon. If they dipped they were liable to run away from her, tumbling down the descending staircase that fell away from her feet.

Just then four doorbell-esque chimes sounded. The familiar bum, bum, bum, bee signaled an imminent jump and Maddy turned in time to pick up Silje, a Canadian, plummeting down the inrun in a tight tuck. Her gloved hands trailed behind her. Her palms faced the sky. When she reached the flattened takeoff point at the bottom, known as the table, Silje jumped. She launched herself up and out into the air with her skis splayed in a “V” and then disappeared eerily behind the snow-covered knoll of the landing hill.

Seconds elapsed.

Finally, Silje reappeared nearly a football field away. She looked like a red dot in the middle of the white, horseshoe-shaped stopping area below known as the outrun.

The starting area lurched into motion. The Japanese jumper in front of Maddy—Kaori-something—mounted the starting bar. As Maddy inched into the remaining gap, assuming the on-deck position, she noticed something scribbled onto Kaori’s white glove. The Olympic rings. Sure enough, Kaori had drawn five interlocking rings on her palm—in five different colors even. Maddy stared at Kaori’s hand wondering if she traveled with a set of multi-colored Sharpies. Then she looked down at her own hand: her own blank, white glove. What would it feel like?, she wondered. A shiver ran down her spine, and then she shook her head. She needed long jumps not daydreams. Or, maybe she needed to prepare herself for not making it. No. “Jump well and you still have a chance.” Coach’s words echoed in her mind, allowing her to get back to safer territory. She slipped into an imaginary conversation with Brooke in her mind, deciding how she would tell her about the discovery of Kaori’s stupid rings.

The chimes sounded again. This time Maddy didn’t watch. She stared at the empty starting bar ahead, making herself count 10 Mississippi’s before turning her head and acquiring the starting lights at the end of the ramp. This required tunnel vision, a willful avoidance to ignore the fact that the black spots milling in the background far below were people, not ants.

Two inhales later, the red light switched to yellow.

Maddy took a deep breath and hiked herself up onto the starting bar. Once her hips were underneath her, she gripped the wooden board and scooted along, inches at a time, until she was centered in the middle. With her short legs bent, only the tails of her skis rested in the channels of the icy track. She literally roosted on the edge now. The steep profile of the inrun ran out beneath her, but her eyes didn’t wander down the breathtaking vertical drop. Instead, she scanned the elevated coaches’ platform on her left, easily picking out Coach Stad. He was the tallest in the crowd at six-foot-two and the only one holding a red flag above his head. Seeing his familiar outline was like locking eyes with a security blanket. Her father might be the biggest disappointment of her life, but at least she had Coach.

A cold gust of wind burned her already-pink cheeks. She stole a glance at one of the bright orange wind flags dotting the sides of the takeoff ramp. A head wind, sure enough. Her heart fluttered. Not out of anxiety, but good fortune. If it held, oh, if only it held…

“Okay noise, it’s you and me.” Maddy muttered under her breath as she revved her wrists on the starting board, working them back and forth as if opening up the throttle on a motorcycle. “Fuck you, you God damn mother-fucker. Fuck you and your pony-ass promises. Fuck you and your sorry drunk ass. Fuck your drunk face, fuck your whiskey breath, fuck your…”

Her lips tight, her face drawn, her eyebrows bent, she mouthed the words like a perverse prayer. Coach expected her to be repeating her one-word mantra—silence. He’d issued buzz words for each member of the team to help reinforce fundamentals: hips, ankles, etc. Maddy’s bird-like body had a knack for flight though. A good jump for her began in her mind. The silence between her own ears was directly proportional to distance. What Coach didn’t know was that before she got around to her mantra, she always jacked up the noise first. She hadn’t spoken to her father in years, but he did serve one useful purpose: he gave her an endless well of bad memories to dredge up and distract her from all her acrophobic anxiety. So when Coach dropped the flag, she didn’t think, and she didn’t question.

She just stood.

As she rose, Maddy leaned back and reached for the track with her skis. She listened for the reassuring smack of waxed skis slipping onto ice. Once she heard them slide home, inside the two-centimeter deep, frozen grooves of the track, it was on.

Silence.

As she gradually shifted her weight forward, she was already accelerating. She tucked her body neatly over her feet, ducked her head down, and leaned into the hill, stepping on the gas.

Silence.

Her skis vibrated. Her bindings rattled. Air whipped around her.

Silence.

Maddy entered the curve at the bottom of the inrun moving fast enough to pull G’s. Just like a pilot pulling back on the stick, her body compressed as she closed in on the lip of the inrun, pushing nearly sixty miles an hour. She steeled herself for imminent takeoff. In the next half-second, just as the curve flattened and the weighty compression bled off, she leaped.

She wasn’t a bird, hell, she didn’t even have wings, but still, Maddy flew.

They say in ski jumping, “you know right away,” and she knew right away this jump wasn’t just good, it was scary good. “Like sticking your hand outside your window on the Interstate,” she and her teammates often told wide-eyed spectators. “Only it’s your whole body.”

As she soared over the knoll, a palpable exhilaration flickered through her body. She knew she’d nailed her takeoff. Now, to nail the flight. Maddy bit down on her bottom lip, consciously disobeying the voice inside her head screaming, “Hit the brakes! This is suicide!”

Silence!

Maddy couldn’t see a thing as she pinned her chin to her chest, attempting to meld her body into one pancake-flat plane. She only knew the jump was long because it felt long. It took a concerted effort to keep looking out the tops of her eyes instead of sneaking a peek at the blue and red distance markers on the landing hill. Any movement was costly, paid for in both meters and style points. So she bit down on her lip harder, holding her position even as the ground began rushing up underneath her.

She held off landing until the last moment, until it seemed she could almost reach down and touch the snow. Only then did she bend her legs and straighten her skis. Her hands flew out to her sides and, with one leg slightly in front of the other, in the required telemark position, she touched down.

“Shiiiiiit, no!”

Maddy barely had time to curse. She had landed just a touch off-balance. Her weight and momentum were shifting backwards, onto her heels. The last place she wanted them. She fought and clawed, desperate to keep any part of her body from inadvertently scraping the snow. Her body was nearly limbo-horizontal when she finally caught her balance and straightened up over her skis.

It wasn’t a perfect landing style-wise, but Maddy hadn’t fallen. Best of all, she’d touched down past the K-point. Landing at the K-point, where the landing hill begins to flatten, was somewhat analogous to shooting par in golf. Landing even with the mark earned 60 points. Jumpers earned points for every meter beyond and were deducted points for every meter short. Since judges could only award a maximum of 20 points for style, flying far was far more important than looking good.

Maddy slid to a stop, unclipped her skis, and flashed a triumphant grin at the approaching TV cameraman. Remembering that this World Cup competition was being broadcast via the Internet, she quickly waved and shouted, “Hi Mom, hi Aaron!” Then, she fixed her attention on the Jumbotron. Man, what would it be? Lofty expectations swam through her mind as she shifted her goggles to the crown of her helmet. She quickly reigned herself in with reality. No matter what happened, she still had two more weeks. Four more competitions to battle it out for a spot on the first-ever U.S. Women’s Olympic Ski Jumping team.

Just then, the board lit up. Ninety-one meters! The longest jump of the day! Even with lower style points, it was enough to vault her to the top of the leaderboard. Maddy’s arms shot over her head as she read “#1. KIMBALL, M. USA.”

She didn’t believe for a second that things would end that way. Not with the current World Cup points leaders yet to jump, but still, it was surreal to see her name at the top. Far more importantly, she’d just reasserted herself in the fight for the final spot on the U.S. team.

Maddy shuffled to the side of the outrun, but lingered, taking the time to absorb the hugeness of the moment. She noticed how the Jumbotron stood in the shadow of the sun’s setting rays and the skinny inrun looked squeezed on each side by a green forest frosted white with snow. She inhaled deeply, smiling when she caught a faint whiff of manure from the small farm nearby. It reminded her of summers spent at her grandparents’ farm in western Nebraska.

Her exhale caught in her throat and she realized, an irritating moment too late, she was about to cry. She tilted her head back, but her eyelids brimmed with tears. One leaked out the side, followed quickly by two more. Caught off guard by her own emotions, she swiped at her cheeks, furious for feeling like a little kid at a soccer game searching the sidelines for a familiar face. She hated herself for feeling it. She hated even to admit it, but she knew it was true.

She just wished her father knew.

Chapter 2

“Maddy!”

Connor Rolle’s overly animated voice—he only had one volume, too loud—tugged Maddy out of her sad swell. The furrow that ran north-south between her eyebrows, a worry line so persistent it never tanned, shallowed. She could see the team trainer out of the corner of her eye, but she didn’t dare turn to acknowledge him. Not with tears dribbling out of the corners of her eyes. Instead, she bent over and fiddled with her boots, discreetly brushing away any emotional evidence. Only after she’d managed to string together several breaths without a catching shudder did she turn towards the chest-high partitions that fenced off the outrun.

Two familiar figures in matching powder blue ski jackets and black knit hats stood beside Connor: her teammates, Anna Olsen and Gina Morelli. Maddy made her way towards them awkwardly in her rigid boots with their sixteen-degree forward lean, lugging her long skis.

“Maddy, where’d you uncork that one from?” Connor said, squeezing her shoulder. Of the three, Connor was by far the most enthused about her jump. Then again, he was also the only one not competing against her.

“Yeah, what the heck, chica?” said Anna. She grabbed Maddy’s neck and tapped her helmet playfully. Anna had had an off day, but she clearly wasn’t sweating it. Of course, she didn’t have to. She was already one of the two Chosen Ones.

“Seriously, that was awesome.” Gina said. She gave Maddy a glancing grin and a one-armed hug.

Deep-down Maddy knew that Gina must hate her right now. They were both 28, but Gina had been jumping forever. Since she was five years old, Gina’s life had been groomed for ski jumping success: the best camps, the best equipment, the best coaches. Meanwhile, Maddy grew up cross country skiing and only began ski jumping at the elderly age of thirteen to impress a boy. But she held a mighty trump card that equalized the playing field—she was the one with the genes. She never talked about it, but she didn’t have to. Everybody knew who her father was.

“Thanks guys, I don’t know what happened,” Maddy said. Just then, Brooke’s name came blaring out of the speakers. The impeccable timing saved her from coming up with some kind of explanation for her decidedly epic day. The group turned to watch Brooke. From the outrun, she looked like a gray marble rolling down the white track.

“Come on, Brooke!” Maddy shouted, cheering Brooke on even though she couldn’t possibly hear her. She couldn’t wait to talk to her. All season they had been secretly wishing that they would get to go to Sochi together, but it was such a long shot. And up until about ten minutes ago, she was the one lagging behind.

“Oh, no!” Anna gasped. The breathy panic in her voice was so real and unexpected that Maddy’s neck hair stood up on end before she even realized what was happening.

Brooke’s takeoff had seemed fine from below. She seemed to be flying in a good position, her skis splayed out in a nice-enough V, right until her arms began to buffet at her sides. It was nothing more than a quick arm twitch at first, but she might as well have been waving a sign that read, “About to wipeout!” Any amount of arm-flapping in ski jumping typically portended peril. The crowd’s attention snapped uphill. Hundreds of grave faces with red noses joined Maddy’s own—watching, waiting, and fearing the worst.

As Brooke’s arms began to windmill, Maddy locked eyes on Brooke’s ski tips. They were flying dangerously flat and she attempted to telepathically will them upright: don’t drop it, don’t drop it.

Dropping a tip, as it was called, was a rare, but real danger in ski jumping. Airflow was a ski jumper’s best friend and worst enemy. When harnessed, it added precious meters to jumps. When allowed to slip out from underneath a jumper’s skis, a crash was usually imminent. Rogue air could whip through the tiniest cracks in mechanics and pluck a ski jumper right out of the air. Like a giant wave biting down on a surfer, once this overwhelming force of nature curled over your ski tips, resistance was futile. The best you could do was tuck and roll and pray while you somersaulted, hoping to avoid major injury. A wrenched knee, a snapped collarbone, a punctured spleen, and a concussed brain were all likely consequences. Nobody, least of all Brooke, cared how far she jumped right now. Survival was the sole concern. Would she be able to walk away?

Fortunately, low airspeed and altitude, the upshots of poor air position, shortened Brooke’s flight time mercifully. The prospect of disaster dangled just long enough to be fully realized. Brooke landed hard, but her butt bore the brunt of the impact as her skis slid out in front of her. A good fall considering the alternatives. As Maddy watched Brooke, the closest person in life she had to a sister, skid to a stop and smack her helmet in frustration, she let out a nervy, relieved laugh. Brooke was pissed, but she was going to be fine. And now, Maddy was just fine, too.

Two hours later, standing on the first podium of her career, Maddy struggled to harness that fine feeling again. She stood holding her skis, flowers, and a plaque, but she was having trouble holding on to a smile. It took a concerted effort to keep her lips curled upwards. Part of it was sheer incredulity. She could hardly believe she was standing with two of the sport’s All-Stars—Canadian Julie Mitchell and her fellow teammate Tara Gardner. She expected someone to interrupt the proceedings at any moment and say, “hey look, we’re really sorry, but we didn’t carry the one and, well, you actually aren’t in third place.” Another part of it was her anxious mind. While Julie and Tara waved to the crowd and bantered back and forth, Maddy couldn’t stop convincing herself that this was probably the pinnacle of her entire career. The Olympics? Like that pipe-dream is ever going to happen. Instead of welling up with joy, she welled up with woe. She hoped like hell that the announcer would hurry up. She really didn’t want to get caught crying in public.

“Thanks again to everyone for coming out and supporting a fantastic weekend of women’s ski jumping,” the announcer said. Thankfully, she seemed to be winding down. A mild applause rose from the hundred-odd diehard fans. They had stayed past sunset with stocking caps on their heads and mittens on their hands to see the award presentations. Maddy leaned forward to step down just as the announcer drew in another breath and continued.

“This is such an exciting time—we’re a month away from the Olympics, and these women are truly elevating the entire sport as they duke it out for the right to represent their respective countries in Sochi. Not in the stands like in Vancouver or Turin or Salt Lake City, but on the ski jumps!”

This brought a more raucous response, only further encouraging the announcer, who began clapping herself. She nearly knocked the mic off its stand. Maddy survived by concentrating on the moon hanging fat and bright in the dark night sky. It must have been only a day or two away from being completely full.

“That’s right,” the announcer said. “And let’s hear it one more time for our podium finishers!”

Tara and Julie thrust their hands into the air and Maddy followed suit, a tardy moment later. After another minute or so of applause, Julie finally stepped down.

Maddy felt instant relief as she slunk back down to terra firma. She watched Tara and Julie wade into the crowd easily, accepting congratulatory hugs with wide grins. For a moment, she considered following them, but then she turned and began walking away in the other direction.

“There she is! The bronze medalist!” Brooke gang-tackled Maddy and held on tight. Maddy could do little to fend her off with her hands still full.

“Oh, stop it.” Maddy struggled in Brooke’s embrace.

“Dude.” Brooke held her at arm’s length. “You just podium’d for the first time ever and you look like you’re about to cry. What’s it gonna take to make you happy?”

Maddy shrugged. She caught sight of Coach Stad veritably beaming at Tara in the crowd beyond Brooke’s shoulder.

“Hey, earth to Maddy.” Brooke reached up and grabbed hold of her chin, forcing Maddy to look at her.

“Hey, what’s up?

“What? Oh, nothing.”

“Right. That’s a whole lot of nothing.”

“Really. It’s nothing.” Maddy shook her head, trying to convince herself she wasn’t lying. She needed to talk about something else. Quickly. “Man, I’m so glad you didn’t crash today. You nearly gave me a heart attack.”

“Yeah, thank God, huh?”

Maddy bristled at the mention of a supreme being.

“You know, you could be polite for once and keep the God-shit to yourself.”

“Yes, dear.” Brooke smirked at Maddy and they began making the uphill walk back to the changing cabin together.

A chill settled over Maddy. The feeling stuck with her as they packed up their gear, drove back to the hotel, and sat down to dinner in the small dining room.

“Forget about the ‘Lympics tonight.” Coach Stad said. He sounded as Nordic as he looked with longish pale hair that hung down to his stubbled chin. His striking blue eyes were twinkly in a manly sort of way.

“Enjoy today. Second place, third place, twentieth place. Amazing.” As he noted their respective finishes, he glanced at each of them. Tara, then Maddy, then Gina. Coach wasn’t a touchy-feely guy, per se. Hugs and high fives were Connor’s territory, but his looks endured, for Maddy especially. They became travel companions in her conscience, at times propping her up, at times infuriating her. His look for her tonight was a cross between “see, I told you so” and “wow!” It made her blush and look away. Outwardly, she didn’t appear to accept the compliment, but inwardly, Coach had zinged her. The man she worked the hardest to impress was proud of her, and Maddy smiled a smile she couldn’t possibly un-smile. She finally felt the warm wash of joy.

“Guys, you didn’t just pass the Germans today. You bounded them,” Connor said. The short trainer looked even smaller than normal seated next to Coach Stad. Thirty years and a foot in height separated Connor and Coach, but somehow they made a good pair. Coach Ingvar Fjelstad, their head coach, was a former Norwegian national ski jumping champion. He still commanded a tall, spry frame. Connor, meanwhile, would have fit in better around a chess club table.

Maddy looked at Brooke and let her mind imagine a tingly pair of what if’s: What if I make it? What if we both make it? The future seemed as delicious as the chocolate muffin she was relishing in tiny bites. Connor had stopped by a local bakery in honor of the team’s big day. It was a rare treat. After all, everyone knew the unfortunate, but true ski jumping credo: fat don’t fly.

“Get some rest, breakfast is at nine,” Coach Stad said. The team rose from the table and split off towards their rooms. Everyone was doubled up with the exception of Tara, who got a room all to herself. It was one of the few perks she claimed for being the team’s matriarch at 31.

“Hey, you mind if I shower first?” Maddy asked Brooke as they approached their door, searching their pockets for their brass-colored room keys. Modern conveniences like magnetic key card locks hadn’t made it to this part of Slovenia yet.

“Got it.” Brooke smiled, fishing her key out of her pocket before Maddy could produce her own. “You know you can,” she said, unlocking the door.

“Thanks, dude.”

Maddy always made a point of asking, but Brooke always said yes. After years of traveling, the two had worked out these little details of give and take. In Maddy’s case, that meant understanding that she often reached for a shower the way some people reach for a cup of tea. It was one of her few vices. She didn’t do illegal drugs, she didn’t drink much alcohol, she shunned soda and energy drinks, but she was guilty of beginning and ending her days in the shower.

The cramped hotel room was small and shabby by American standards. It was just wide enough to hold two twin beds with a small nightstand wedged in-between. Decorated in a bleak palette of faded browns, blacks, and grays, it was as drab and dreary as the rest of Eastern Europe in January.

Maddy entered the room as if efficiency judges were evaluating her performance. She was in the bathroom with her pajamas before Brooke had even taken her shoes off. Two minutes later, she was already standing in the shower. She allowed herself a small measure of superiority in moments like these. She enjoyed being efficient, and she prided herself on getting more done in less time than anyone else. She hurried because she liked to hurry, but also on Brooke’s behalf—if she was always going to shower first, it was only fair to be snappy.

As she stood under the hot water, Maddy, a being hardwired for self-evaluation, began taking stock. She ruminated on every part of her day. She began with the obvious—her jumps, their landings and scores—but she also lingered on the more minute. Her conversations, her outfit choices, her food choices: How had she done? How did she feel about it? On this odd day though, there wasn’t much to harangue herself about. Maddy checked her watch as she exited the bathroom: eleven minutes.

“It’s all yours,” she said, looking slightly different now in her black, wire rimmed glasses and dressed in a simple tank top and boxers. With her long blonde hair twisted into a towel on her head, Maddy folded her dirty clothes and stowed them in her bag. Then she climbed into bed and busied herself with her iPhone. It was roaming endlessly for a wireless connection, but she could at least still send and receive texts.

“Hey, I’m beat. You about done?” Brooke asked twenty minutes later, pausing mid-brush. Even with her mouth full of toothpaste she was effortlessly attractive: feminine and confident. Standing there with her short brown hair simply toweled off, wearing a fitted black T-shirt with running Pac Man characters that said “I love to be chased” and pink flannel pants, she looked put-together even for bed. Maddy loathed her, in a petty way. A disgusted frown stole across her face.

“Yeah, sure.” Maddy sighed, then resigned her attention back to her screen where her thumbs were busy re-capping her day. She’d already replied to her mom’s congratulatory texts. Now she was working on a text to Aaron.

“What?” Brooke asked.

“Nothing.”

“You know, if you’d let me take you shopping, if you put some effort into it.” Brooke continued the conversation from the bathroom, speaking to the mirror, but loudly so Maddy could hear. “And may I remind you,” she began as she re-entered the room. “You’re the one with the boyfriend right now.”

Brooke promptly plopped down next to her on the bed and helped herself to Maddy’s phone. “What’s my favorite Mormon up to today, anyway?”

“Boundaries!” Maddy cried, wresting her phone back and hiding the screen against her chest. “You should get some!”

Brooke responded with a playful shove. “Boundaries! You have too many!”

Brooke retreated to her own bed and Maddy felt a bittersweet mix of relief. She watched Brooke pull back the sheets and fought the compulsion to get out of bed herself. She wanted to jump up on Brooke’s bed and surprise her with her big news—Aaron was coming to Sochi. She’d been holding on to this secret for nearly a week and it was nearly killing her, but her excitement was still too clouded by her own doubts and misgivings. Was buying tickets the right thing to do? If she spoke about it out loud, if she actually admitted how excited she was, how much everything was feeling eerily right for once, would it still happen? Or would she only succeed in cursing herself? What if it was all too good to be true?

On the other side of all these questions, however, there was the undeniable fact that her heart skipped a beat every time she thought about the emails they’d most recently traded.

The week before the team had been in Sapporo, Japan. Literally, in another world, the modern wired world, which allowed them access to Wi-Fi and made it so much easier to stay connected with their friends and family on the road. Aaron and Maddy had been trading emails about the Olympics. He wanted to buy airline tickets. She was trying to talk him out of it, as it wasn’t any sure thing she would actually make the team. Most likely she wouldn’t, she had written. Not with the way she was jumping. And that meant she would have to buy tickets herself if she wanted to go, just to cheer on her friends. She wasn’t even sure she wanted to do that. Did she really need another opportunity to feel like a failure?


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Originally from Bellevue, Nebraska, I graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 2001 with a Bachelor’s Degree in English. I served six years on active duty as a Marine Public Affairs Officer, including one tour in Fallujah, Iraq. I began writing When Elephants Fly while my Marine husband was deployed to Afghanistan on a yearlong tour. I currently substitute teach and freelance for Nebraska Life Magazine.

Q. Where did the idea for this book come from?
A.
Looking back, I began my novel with ideals as selfish as they were selfless: I wanted to help myself and I wanted to help others. Books have always had this impact on my life—coming to me at serendipitous moments, spurring me forward at times, and easing me back from the edge of despair at others.
Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
This book’s genesis can be traced back to my love of competition and sports and my own personal struggle with my fear of heights. It was also inspired by the tough women of our real U.S. Women’s Ski Jumping team who clung to their dreams even in the face of discrimination by the IOC.
Q. Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?
A.
I plan on sharing 50 percent of any proceeds with USA Nordic to help fund future Olympic dreams. I am beyond grateful to our Women's Ski Jumping team for taking a chance on me. This book would not have been possible without the behind-the-scenes access they granted me.